Importance Of Getting Your Food Safety Certificate

Do you need a food safety certification for your current job? Discover what food safety certification is, why it is necessary, and where to obtain it.
All residents in the United States need to eat. Therefore, protecting the national food supply as much as possible is essential. Many foods can easily become contaminated when they are not properly handled. Contamination can cause consumers who eat those foods to become ill. That is why the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and other local, state, and federal agencies constantly work to protect the food supply. Those protections include the establishment of regulations governing food processing and food service practices.

If you work in a position that requires you to handle food, such as at a restaurant, you may need a food safety certificate. The requirements for food safety certificates are governed partially by federal laws. However, state governments also set certain food safety standards. The facts and resources below can help you determine which certification you need for food safety in your state and where to obtain your certification.

What is a Food Safety Certificate?

A food safety certificate is also sometimes known as a food handler certificate. It certifies the holder has completed a training class in food safety. In the case of a food manager certificate, it certifies the holder has learned additional food safety measures necessary to oversee food safety in the establishment he or she owns or manages. Food safety courses teach vital aspects of food handling, such as:

  • Cross-Contamination Prevention

  • Food Allergy Management

  • Bacteria Management/Proper Cleaning Practices

  • Pest Control

  • Proper Cooking Temperatures

  • Best Food Storage Practices

When Do You Need a Food Safety Certificate?

You need a food safety certificate to work in any business where food service is required. A restaurant is one such business, but there are many others. For example, staff members in gas stations where food is cooked also need food safety certifications. Usually, at least one worker in a specific location that serves food must have a food safety manager certification. Other staff members are typically required to have food handler certifications. That requirement typically applies to all levels of management and staff ranging from dishwashers to senior staff and owners.

If you have already received a food safety certificate, there are also occasions when you may need a new certification. For example, a promotion may require you to switch from a food handler to a food manager license. A food safety certification is also only valid for a certain length of time. In most cases, a handler license is valid for three years, and a manager license is valid for five. However, there are exceptions in some states and individual companies.

Why is a Food Safety Certificate Important?

Food safety certification is important for practical reasons. When all employees are familiar with how to reduce allergen exposure and contamination, the chances of spreading food-borne illnesses are greatly reduced. Keeping up with such practices also makes working environments cleaner and safer. In addition to protecting employees, maintaining best food safety practices also protects customers. Reducing the spread of contaminants, bacteria, and illnesses also reduces strains on healthcare systems.

Food safety certification is also important for monetary reasons. Customers who become ill after consuming contaminated food can opt to sue restaurants or other food service establishments. Such establishments are also inspected by local Board of Health workers regularly. Failed inspections can lead to lawsuits or temporary or permanent business closures. Owners may also need to pay fines totaling thousands of dollars.

What Steps Are Required to Get a Food Safety Certificate?

If you need a food safety license, the first step is to verify requirements. Food safety certification types and sources vary. National, state, and local regulations regarding where you can get your license apply. For instance, some states require you to get licensing specifically from a state agency. Even if your state has no such requirements, the company for which you work may have specific licensing requirements. 

The next step, when applicable, is choosing between an in-person or online course. In some cases, rules and laws may require in-person training. If you have the choice, consider the merits of both carefully. Online training is often more convenient. However, learning in a hands-on environment may help you absorb the course information more efficiently.

After selecting the type of course you desire, you must find one that meets requirements and fits your schedule. Check the details of the course requirements as well. For example, when taking a course in person certain materials are required. You may need to purchase those materials, or the course provider may make them available to you.

Once you select a training course, you must attend the class. Different courses have varying lengths, but training often takes several sessions. After completing the course, you must pass an exam. Then you can receive your food safety certificate.

What Websites and Organizations Offer Food Safety Certifications?

Existing regulations may dictate the organization through which you must take a food safety course or receive a certificate. For example, your state or county Board of Health may require certification through a specific organization. Alternatively, your employer may already have a company selected. If no such restrictions exist, you can choose from multiple sources. When doing so, be aware requirements, costs, course duration, and length of time certification is valid between companies. Some of the top options are:

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Food Safety Certificate?

The costs to get a food safety certificate vary by company, location, and regulations, as well as certificate type. It is also important to factor in required course materials. For example, the food handler course, including the exam, costs only $15 through ServSafe, but the course study materials cost $45. The safety manager course costs $179, and the study materials are available for $175. When reviewing food safety course costs, you must also talk to your employer. The company may cover some or all of the related costs, either up front or in the form of later reimbursement.